Category Archives: Uncategorized

Breakthrough Students Participate in UCI’s FABcamp

Breakthrough students Angie and Ulises recently attended UCI’s FABcamp on a scholarship provided by St. Margaret’s. According to Director of Academic Innovations, Leyla De Silva Riley, “The particular program the students are in is a hybrid of both APPcamp and FABcamp. APPcamp is intended to introduce middle school students to computer science and FABcamp focuses on engineering and fabrication.”

Under the direction of FABcamp employees, Ulises created a sound app by downloading sounds onto an iPad and placing the sounds in separate icons. Angie used various shapes and sizes in order to create her very own maze app on the computer. In addition to creating their own apps, both students participated in making hover crafts out of vacuums and large air bags.

Thank you FABcamp, UCI, and St. Margaret’s for giving our students a wonderful opportunity to participate in an intellectually challenging and innovating experience.

Ricardo’s Place Spring Fundraiser is a Success

We recently had our first spring fundraiser at Ricardo’s Place in San Juan Capistrano. Ricardo Beas, the owner of Ricardo’s Place, has been a supporter of the Breakthrough organization for quite some time. The idea of helping students in need and eliminating the achievement gap that affects our students are very important to him and he generously gives to many other local organizations as well.

Ricardo has been donating food for the past few years for the Late Night Breakthrough event where students and teachers spend one final evening together on the last day of summer. In the end, 24 families came out to Ricardo’s over the five day span of our spring fundraiser. 25% of each bill was given to Breakthrough to help our students as they strive to attend a four year college.

Thank you to everyone who came out to support us for the spring fundraiser and a huge thank you to Ricardo Beas and his staff for organizing the fundraiser and for supporting our mission!

Tartan Support Group Dinner Celebrates Graduating Seniors

St. Margaret’s students and families recently gathered to celebrate our four seniors that are part of the Tartan Support Group. Our four seniors Luis Almanza, Denise Garcia, Priscilla Garcia, and Francelia Lievanos are all remarkable young adults who have accomplished so much during their academic career. In the fall, Luis will head to St. Olaf University, Denise to USC, Priscilla to the University of San Diego, and Franci to Pitzer College.

The night kicked off with a welcome from Upper School Principal Tony Jordan who spoke about the fine accomplishments of our seniors and all the good they will do in the community. Each senior was given a tribute by both their college counselor and a rising senior. The emotional tributes highlighted the students’ journeys at St. Margaret’s and Breakthrough.

A moving speech about surviving college was given by Nohemi Moctezuma, class of 2010 St. Margaret’s alumna and first generation college student. She spoke about the hardships that come along with being a first generation student and working multiple jobs to support herself through college. Nohemi concluded her speech with the encouraging statement, “You can accomplish anything you set your mind to.” Head of School Will Moseley congratulated our seniors and closed out the night.

The Tartan Support Group is designed to support first generation students who attend St. Margaret’s Episcopal School. Breakthrough provides an added layer of support for those students during the school year. At the celebration, we also welcomed seven new students to the Tartan Support Group for the 2016-2017 school y ear.

Thank you to everyone who came out to give a friendly farewell to our four Tartan Support Group seniors.

Breakthrough Attends “Midori & The Planets” at The Segerstrom Center

Breakthrough SJC and Kinoshita Elementary School students recently attended the latest Pacific Symphony concert at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts through the Heartstrings program. The night kicked off with fun in the Segerstrom photo booth where students were able to take pictures with various planets of their choice.

Once all of Breakthrough was seated, all became quiet and the symphony started. Along with classics such as Clair de Lune, each musical piece depicted a different planet in our solar system. The students were in awe and fully captivated as the music flowed on. One Kinoshita student even said, “I’ve heard some of these songs before.”

We always enjoy opportunities to expose our students to the arts. A big thank you to Mary Hawkes and Rachel Schlesinger from Heartstrings for the generous ticket and transportation donation. We can’t wait to be back again!

Breakthrough Attends UCI Youth Conference

Middle and high school students from around Orange County gathered at the University of California, Irvine for the Resistance Youth Conference. The conference was designed to provide students with informational workshops on college admissions, to educate students on Chicano history, and to help young students on their path to higher education.

Freshman Katie Muniz attended the event along with her family. Katie’s older sister, Cinthia, is a former Breakthrough student and now attends UC Merced. According to Katie, “my brother thought that spray painting was an interactive and fun experience and enjoyed participating in it. My mom thought it was a great learning experience and she would love to attend next year.” Included in the conference was expression of culture through spray paint, a group dance where students were able to express themselves through movement, and a workshop about A-G college requirements.

Thank you UCI for holding the Youth Conference and for including Breakthrough students in your event.

Breakthrough SJC Presents at San Juan Capistrano City Council

On Tuesday evening, students, family members, supporters, and staff gathered at San Juan Capistrano City Hall to show their support for Breakthrough as Director Victor Cota spoke on behalf of the program. Mr. Cota expressed the need for a program like Breakthrough in the San Juan community and shared program highlights from this past year.

Vanessa Rodriguez, a senior at San Juan Hills School, spoke to the Council and expressed her gratitude for the program. She commented, “Breakthrough made a large contribution to my success as a first generation college student in high school and as ASB president.” Mr. Loya— parent of former Breakthrough student Enrique, now attending Trinity College, and current Breakthrough student Eduardo— also spoke on behalf of Breakthrough and explained how appreciative he is for the opportunities the program has provided for his sons.

A warm thank you to the San Juan Capistrano City Council for taking the time to listen to Breakthrough’s presentation and for your continued support in the community.

8th graders excel in annual egg drop competition

Engineers from Fluor Corporation visited Breakthrough SJC for our second annual egg drop competition. Students had to follow strict guidelines and make sure their crafts were lightweight and creative. Fluor engineers also followed these guidelines with their own competition entry!

Before the competition, engineer Felipe Delgado taught students about the different types of engineering. He encouraged a passion for learning, saying, “We are hoping to encourage you to feel that passion to work in a team and solve problems and come up with solutions. That is why we’re here today.”

Nine teams entered the competition and eight of nine survived the drop! It was up to the engineers from Flour to judge the winners of the competition. The winning team included Angel, Aldo, and Robert. Thank you Felipe Delgado, Dwight Jackson, Vernyl Phillips, and Tanya Aguilar for helping Breakthrough SJC students learn about engineering and enjoy the egg drop competition​!​

How my roots shaped my path: a letter from the new director

My roots run deep in San Juan Capistrano. In the 1920s, my Grandpa Pete attended the Mission Basilica School, walking barefoot to and from school because his family could not afford shoes. He never made it past third grade. In the 1930s, my Grandpa Pete and my Abuelita (grandmother)—both members of immigrant families—worked in the fields that still stand by Marco Forster Middle School. Today, Grandpa Pete is buried in the Mission cemetery and my Abuelita still lives in Dana Point. My own mother attended Marco Forster, graduated from Dana Hills High School, and went to college. My father grew up in Santa Ana, graduated from Santa Ana High School, and went to college. Both of my parents worked hard to overcome the challenge of growing up in low-income households. In beating the odds to earn post-secondary educations, they found a way to break the cycle of poverty for their family. This is the same goal we have here at Breakthrough: to provide a support system to students and families so that they can go to college and break the cycle of poverty. My mother recently told me that she wishes Breakthrough had existed when she was a child because it would have guided her path and could have changed the trajectory for some of her peers who did not go to college.

Today, I am grateful to find myself serving as the new and fully transitioned director of Breakthrough SJC. It is an honor and a blessing to be here, where I can continue to grow my roots in a community as historical and unique as San Juan Capistrano. I have had a great summer leading up to this transition. I have learned so much from the Breakthrough team, the St. Margaret’s team, the students, the families, and all of those in our support system. It has been such a joy watching our students and our teaching fellows commit their summers to overcoming the achievement gap and accelerating toward college. I am eager to connect my experience so far here at Breakthrough with my experience as a teacher and principal in Houston, Texas. I moved to Houston after my undergraduate years at USC, I joined Teach for America, and I had the privilege of earning my MBA at Rice University. While in Houston, I fell in love with the mission of serving students and families from underserved communities.

I look forward to continuing the success that Breakthrough SJC has enjoyed in its first ten years. I think ahead to ten years from now, when we celebrate Breakthrough SJC’s 20th anniversary, and I get chills thinking about the impact we can have. In the year 2025, if our rates stay the same, we will have served over 500 students and over 300 teaching fellows. That is a critical mass of students who can end the cycle of poverty for their families and return to San Juan Capistrano to enhance the community; likewise, that is an incredible number of teachers who can influence the field of education and impact communities across the nation. I am committed to continuing our great work here at Breakthrough San Juan Capistrano, and I am excited to strengthen the roots of our students, families, and community.

Thank you,


Students explore career paths

Last week for Career Day, students explored careers that they can consider pursuing after college graduation. Career Day is an annual BTSJC event where we encourage students to dress up as the career they aspire to and we welcome guest speakers from varying careers to speak to our students. This year, BTSJC welcomed five guest speakers: lawyers Jason Velez and Scott McDonald from 1Law, ER doctor Bill Honigman from Kaiser, engineer Kenneth Chen from Fluor, and reporter Norberto Santana from Voice of OC.

Students broke up into small groups to hear presentations from the five different guest speakers. All guest speakers touched on their educational backgrounds and discussed the details of their careers.  Norberto Santana, reporter for the Voice of OC, spoke on his struggles as a first-generation college student and English language learner. One piece of advice he had for students was, “Do what you are passionate about, find what your calling is, that’s three fourths of it.” Thank you to all of the presenters for speaking about your careers and inspiring our students!


Dana Point Youth Advisory Board chooses BTSJC for donation

We are excited to announce that the Dana Point Youth Advisory Board chose Breakthrough SJC to receive their annual charitable donation. Each year the Dana Point Youth Advisory Board raises money through fundraisers and participating in city events and then chooses one charity to donate funds to. We were nominated by four Breakthrough students who are on the Youth Advisory Board: Maite Garcia, Ariana Vargas and Roberto and David Santana. Breakthrough student and rising junior at Dana Hills High School, Ariana Vargas said, “I thought that Breakthrough would be great [for the donation] since the staff puts in a lot of effort to help students. Once I told my fellow Youth Board members what Breakthrough was, they immediately liked it and believed Breakthrough would use the donation well.”

Breakthrough SJC encourages students to give back to their communities and many of our students choose to volunteer in their spare time. Capistrano Valley High School sophomore Natalia Garcia and Marco Forster Middle School student Marisella Banda also served their community by participating in the San Juan Capistrano Youth Advisory Board this past school year. We are grateful for the Dana Point Youth Advisory Board’s donation and are proud of our students for being involved in their communities.